"Women and the Multilateral Agreement on Investments," and "The Strange Fruit of Corporarate Concentration."

 

"The Strange Fruit of Corporarate Concentration," in "Globalized Resistance," in The Student Activist, May 1988, Issue 2, jvol. 1, p. 10.

April 1998

Major changes are taking place in higher education in Canada and elsewhere. In the face of accelerated corporate concentration and advantage seeking, a fightback is in the making. This clash is spurring the re-emergence of a very old alliance between citizens and intellectuals. There is a trend towards unity amongst students, staff, faculty and members of the wider community in safeguarding and expanding the commitment of institutions of higher learning to the service of society. This is in opposition to corporate agendas which involve paying money to universities to serve the very different ends of expanding private profits.

As corporations become more concentrated, their strategists must address the consequences of concentration. One consequence is greater unity of peoples and markets along with closer ties amongst those directly employed by giant firms. In addition, people otherwise impacted by these giants are also brought into closer touch with each other. A case in point is the growing unity of different peoples led by indigenous peoples that is being fostered by big oil companies' destruction of indigenous and big city environments. The MAI needs to be seen in this context. It is in part a pre-emptive counter-insurgency tactic by huge corporations acting in concert to subvert global unity from below which itself is fostered by the very process of corporate merging.

In April 1988 resistors won a big victory against Daishowa's efforts to stop secondary boycotts against not only one company but also parties with whom it deals. Now secondary boycotts are legal. They remain a powerful weapon in the hands of indgenous people resisting the cutting down of trees in their homelands by logging companies. The implementation of the MAI would sharply curb such citizen actions to boycott corporate violators of fundamental human rights and life-grounding ecological practices. This victory by indigenous peoples of Canada against powerful logging interests invites strategizing on how to expand consumer market control which, along with the refusal to produce for capital, is a key source of popular social power. The social power of consumption or its refusal can, for instance, be focused against those oil corporations which persist in devastating the environment by refusing to conform to "good oilfield practices" which would include the companies refraining from producing down-well water when there are no ecologically sound ways of disposing of this down-well water with its dangerous toxins. It would also include the shutdown or replacement of seriously deteriorating pipeline networks. The cleanup of existing oil spills and seepages is another priority. Massive reparations are due.

We need vigilance on the part of actors in local communities, including student groups and action centres within educational institutions, to monitor oil company compliance with good oilfield practices. Reports of violations need to be channeled into a central monitoring point and broadcast around the world including by internet. Boycotts both primary and secondary need to be mounted against oil companies which refuse to respect good oilfield practice. This kind of global strategy is one strand in a wider fabric of bringing all corporations under social control. It is one step toward creating in practice an anti-MAI or a peoples' MAI. And it is a crucial step toward popular education and action focused on the re-orientation of, in this case the energy and petroleum industry, from profiteering and the amassing of money to the service of society and to the rehabilitation of the environment.

In sum, student activism is awakening different groups to the need for unity. Simultaneously concentration through buyouts of huge transnational corporations is spurring the growth of an old, evolved organizational structure which unites us globally, often as victims but also as active historical subjects. As conscious actors within this global corporate structure we have tremendous social power, in particular through consumer boycotts and moreso through their combination with producers/boycotts. And as Hegel said, "Nothing is destroyed until it is replaced." Attacking corporate pillage is only the preface to the real work of replacing the tiny global elite with popular global economic control. The strange fruit of corporate concentration is the organizational template, ready-to-use, for effecting grassroots re-orientation of worldwide production and exchange to serve rather than destroy society.

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Article for The Women's Review (March 13, 1998)

 

Women and the Multilateral Agreement on Investments

Terisa E. Turner

The rich country governments are trying to implement a charter of rights for transnational corporations (TNCs) which was written by the International Chamber of Commerce. This corporate charter guarantees to companies their "expected future profits" by entitling firms to sue governments and individuals who take action which the firms find reduces the profits they planned on reaping.

Now, as we all know, profits increase to the extent costs are reduced. Reducing costs means lower wages, less money for pollution control and clean-up, more clear-cutting and overall, more devastation for human life, social infrastructure and nature. The MAI is a global agenda for global profit boosting at public cost. Because of this the MAI is also a political attack and especially an attack on women. This reality is dramatized by the story of an Alberta family threatened by oil exploitation.

"We buried our very little child, that my wife miscarried, out in our forest and it's a sad thing that that is what it took to get me to take a serious look at what is happening to our world, but I am glad my eyes have started to open." On March 26, 1997 Benjamin Ludwig of Hythe, 470 km northwest of Edmonton, wrote to Alberta Premier Ralph Klein protesting oil company pollution and natural gas flaring near his rural home which he shares with 27 family members.

Then, some five months later, the oil company AEC West offered a $50,000 reward for tips leading to the conviction of the person who fired a shot at its plant office on October 17, 1997. The Edmonton Journal reported on November 9, 1997 that Benjamin's father, Rev. Wiebo Ludwig "claims leaks from the company's wells are responsible for the miscarriages of 51 of his cattle and three of the women in his family."

On November 8, 1997 Rev. Ludwig had written to the Beverlodge Herald-Tribune offering information on the shooting but only "if AEC West changes its reward offer of $50,000 to "zero tolerance" on flaring and other emissions emitting from their putrid and deadly oil and gas exploitations...."

Ludwig also objected to "the fact that AEC West is prejudicing the investigation [into the rifle shot] by saying that "neighbours are shooting at neighbours" thus implicating the entire neighboring population. How do they know that it was someone in the neighborhood of the plant who did the shooting? Slanderous conjecture like that is characteristic of oil thugs in Nigeria and now also showing its ugly face right here in good 'ol Alberta. Perhaps it will help some wake up t the fact that all is not so sweet, so neat and tidy as government and corporate interests strain to make them appear here."

The family had built an independent, sustainable life on their 230 acre farm. The Ludwig family came to the Hythe area west of Grande Prairie, Alberta about 13 years ago with almost nothing and have put together a very high qulaity and socially rich life style based on family and independence. The non-dependence aspect expressed itself in home schooling their many children, not accepting any government support, using wind power and not being hooked into the electricity net. The oil industry undermined this autonomy and sustainability just as it did that of the Lubicon Cree in northern Alberta.

The Ludwigs made a video to show how the oil companies have drilled sour gas wells around their property until they are quite surrounded, believe they are being poisoned and can't get anywhere with conventional protests. The video shows that Mrs. Ludwig "cracks" on the morning of 10 November, 1995 when she heard on the radio about the execution of Ken Saro-Wiwa in Nigeria. The Nigerian dictator Abacha hung the much-loved poet and environmental activist Saro-Wiwa and eight others who had been challenging Shell for devastating the environment in their communities in Ogoni near Port Harcourt in eastern Nigeria's coastal oilbelt.

This story provides some insight into why the oil and other corporations want the MAI. They want to stop people in far-flung regions from coming together to resist corporate attacks. The Ludwigs were moved to decisive action by the protests by Nigerian communities against the same kind of oil devastation. So immense is the potential power of such link-ups to put a dent in profits through coordinated action against the firms perpetrating destruction that these firms urgently need to criminalize resistance.

The MAI seeks to outlaw objection to environmental and human devastation attendant upon oil, mining, timbering and other exploitation. Boycotts such as the sucessful action brought by the Lubicon Cree against Daishowa, a Japanese multinational, to stop its clearcutting on unceded Lubicon territory would be illegal under the MAI. Even without the MAI, Daishowa is suing the Lubicon people because the boycott costs Daishowa profits.

Corporate enclosure of the commons is killing whole ethnic groups and threatening reproduction itself. Women are miscarrying in several countries, apparently due to their being exposed to toxins including those from the oil industry. Just as the class action against tobacco companies in the USA brought people together across state lines, the toxic threat is bringing people together internationally to focus on the polluters and to demand and end to the killing and compensation for the damage.

And this coordinated action from the grassroots has reached international proportions several times in the recent past. The 1960s mobilization against the Viet Nam war coincided with a black power movement which had international dimensions. This developed into the anti-apartheid movement in the context of growing awareness about the rights of women, indigenous peoples and all citizens in relations to the environment. By the late 1980s the democracy movement had swept Eastern Europe, the Soviet Union and most societies in the world. With the end of the Cold War people expected a peace dividend. This expectation was reflected in opposition to the 1991 Gulf War and the 1998 effort to rekindle the fire of US aggression. Then the Zapatistas rose up in south eastern Mexico and the Ogoni people in Nigeria mounted their campaign to get Shell out. Shell was pushed out of Burma and Indian peasants have occupied the Narmada Dam site and appear to be enforcing a moratorium on that mammoth construction.

In all these local struggles women have been prominent because their responsibilities around caring for people could not be fulfilled in an environment destroyed by corporate profit-taking. All these local struggles have made gains because of the readiness with which these causes have been joined by people in other countries. In short, mounting waves of international action have put transnational corporations on the defensive. Part of their response is the Multilateral Agreement on Investments.

The transnational corporations are aware of the power of this internationalism and now are trying to recruit national governments to a politcal position which requries those governments to discipline citizens who object, and to submit the government's decisions themselves to the binding arbitration of a supra-national TNC court with power to levy fines. In short, we the taxpayers will be paying fines for offences found by this new international corporate court to have been committed against the MAI, should it be passed.

But corporate tactics might just backfire. The MAI has a unifying impact because it is a challenge to national and local government sovereignty. This challenge brings nationalists and grassroots activists together with their counterparts in other countries. MAI underlines the need to regulate corporations and it underlines the impotence of the national governments to do so. The MAI needs to be understood as an expression of corporate backlash. It can be blocked only through an international mobilization to reject it and to replace it with an alternative global code to protect people, social infrastructure and nature from corporate exploitation.

What is to be done? We could recognize the political repression inherent in the MAI and say no to it. It is not good for us and it is not good for our sisters and brothers elsewhere. Instead of a corporate bill of rights, we need an international citizens' bill of rights. This peoples' MAI should be constructed by we who are opposing the corporate MAI and by a broad range of citizens' groups committed to thinking and acting both locally and globally.

Internationalism is the agenda. The MAI can be replaced with a peoples' code to regulate transnational corporations only if international action brings coordinated pressure against many governments and many points of corporate operation.

How can we build international links and how can we use them?

We could work to organize "One hundred days of international action against the MAI" modeled on the 100 days of action against international oil companies in late 1997 and early 1998. This campaign was mounted through the internet and was spurred by the Ogoni struggle against Shell, Chevron, Mobil and Texaco in Nigeria. In constructing an alternative to the MAI we could include a provision that the oil companies employ good oilfield practices everywhere or face opposition and replacement everywhere.

Let us look at the national versus international dimensions of MAI and our resistance to it. One reason for the TNCs' promotion of MAI is their need for rules which are not national and therefore variable, but rather international and standard worldwide. Under this international rule regime, our government can only throw up its hands and say "that issue is beyond our powers. We regret the negative impacts but it is out of our hands. We can do nothing about it."

When our own governments cede control over crucial aspects of our lives they are in effect referring us to a higher and larger political arena. This arena is international. Our success as citizens' organizations in this international political arena depends on the coordination we can strike with our counterparts in other countries. And this is where historical divisions, racism, a colonial mentality, the internalization of stereotypes about the dispossessed in countries of the South, and other divisive prejudices are conjured up. Corporations especially in the media are notorious for playing on these latent sentiments.

While we might readily see the common ground between ourselves here in Canada and our counterparts in France, the UK or the USA; it is much more challenging to work out our common ground with peoples of the impoverished South and with the most dispossessed in our own societies. International resistance to MAI requires that we understand and reject the corporate logic which argues that we should be grateful for our relative privileges and accept that we have to reduce our quality of life downward towards the level of workers in the Third World who are our competitors in atracting investment. Instead of this race to the bottom we have to work out how to enforce the most positive conditions for every aspect of citizen-corporate interaction including wage levels, health and saftey, taxes and social services, environmental protection and clean-up and defence of sustenance ways of life.

Today Third World women, peasants, indigenous peoples and the urban poor are engaged in the defense of their ways of life against oil company exploitation, against the building of big dams, against mining devastation and against land grabs which force farmers to give up their food self-sufficiency and retreat to urban slums. We know that the destruction of the link to the land is also the destruction of timeless agricultural knowledge which is fundamental to peoples' cultural autonomy and distinctiveness. Indigneous women and men have put their lives on the line to defend their land against corporate enclosures. They have gone further to make plans which counter the plans of international firms. In this 'counter-planning from the commons' indigenous peoples are leading the way for the rest of us. They are taking up campaigns which we too must join if we are to survive.

In sum, it is possible to build on the international links which Canadians have constructed in the past around resistance to wars, apartheid, nuclear weapons, pollution and other threats to life. We can work together to stop the MAI. But more important, we can work together to replace this instance of corporate hijacking with real democracy. But that democracy for which we now have to fight is much bigger than any conception of the past. It is a democracy that is alive in our communities as well as at the provincial and federal levels. But most important, it is a democracy which is global in response to the global reach of corporate domination.

Women have a special capacity to build this international community of democratic citizens. We are organizers par excellence who have our priorities right. We know that first things must come first, that food and care for children is a precondition for all else and that this depends on our controlling land, knowledge and community resources. And in this knowledge we are united with women everywhere. It remains for us to make actual this unity and marshal it in the long march to bloc the Multilateral Agreement on Investment and replace it with a peoples' global charter to defend ourselves and our common wealth.

MOSOP, the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People can be reached at mosopcan@istar.ca. The Canadian Alliance in Solidarity for the Native Peoples (CASNP) can be reached at (519) 836-8436. Rev. W. Ludwig can be reached at Box 600, Hythe, Alberta, T0H 2C0.

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